‘The torch must not go off' - Ladysmith Black Mambazo on continuing the legacy of Isicathamiya

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo performing at the honorary gala dinner hosted by the department of sports, arts and culture earlier this year.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo performing at the honorary gala dinner hosted by the department of sports, arts and culture earlier this year.
Frennie Shivambu

From as far back as the 1960s, the traditional music group has made most people dance and comforted hundreds of thousands.

It was founded by Dr Joseph Shabalala to preach peace.

Given the social climate that the country was in during apartheid and the agony that came with it all, their music wiped many tears.

After the death of its founder in 2020, the remaining members took the baton and ran with it. In his last days, Dr Joseph Shabalala made his wishes known.

Among these wishes were the creation of a Ladysmith Black Mambazo academy and uplifting young artists.

Now three years later, their tour called The Legacy, is kicking off on 24 May in celebration of Africa Month and Africa Day on 25 May, to fulfill all these wishes.

Speaking to Drum as they prepare for the first tour performance at the Joburg theatre, the group’s longest standing member, Albert Mazibuko and Sibongiseni Shabalala take pride in being back home after a year of performing abroad.

“We want to thank our supporters here at home for growing iMambazo, for its success and to also empower the young artists so they know that if you do a beautiful thing, people will receive it warmly. For us to even go abroad is because of the support from home,” Albert says on the aim for the tour.

For them, there couldn’t have been a better month to kick off this homecoming tour.

Sibongiseni says, “Ladysmith Balck Mambazo is celebrating Africa Day because our music is deeply rooted in African culture and heritage. The entire South African nation is about celebrating Africa's and our own roots and origins.”

Read More | Ladysmith Black Mambazo honours founder Dr Joseph Shabalala

“In Africa month, we reflect back on the role that music played in the freedom we have today. We look back on the times of the musical legends such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya and many others who dedicated their lives to fighting for freedom through their lyrics and songs,” Albert adds.

In the same breath, the multi-award-winning group members want to empower young cultural groups from across the country by giving them the opportunity to share a stage with them.

Botshabelo, Good Fellaz and Mohlakeng accapella are just some of the traditional music groups that they “want to introduce to their supporters so they can get them to the level that iMambazo is on,” Sibongiseni tells Drum.

"Performing at home is very special because the social issues of South Africa inspired the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo during the dark days of Apartheid till now. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a mirror of South African society,” says Albert.

It doesn’t end there though, the Ladysmith Black Mmabazo mobile academy is also up and running, four years since its inception.

With it, the group wants to “educate the youth about their tradition and culture while uplifting them”.

Last year, they took two groups from North West and the Northern Cape on a six-week tour that they had in the UK, to expose them to a world of endless opportunities.

The group has taken up the role of being torch bearers of the isicathamiya music and keeping the genre alive.

After the Johannesburg leg ends on 28 May, the tour will move to Durban in September, Cape Town in November and will come to a close in Pretoria, at a later stage.

In a statement, the group confirms that “whilst in each city, Ladysmith Black Mambazo will also visit schools to motivate them and do a music masterclass with students”.

Read More | Ladysmith Black Mambazo will not cancel US tour: 'This is the last thing Joseph would want his group to do'

The tour is not the only thing on the cards for the five-times Grammy award winners though.

Before July, the group will be releasing a new album which hasn’t been named yet but that has a fuse of gospel and traditional music.

The album was written during the Covid-19 lockdown to comfort broken hearts and restore lost hope.

“My father taught us how to write songs so we have new songs coming and as per his wishes, the group will not discontinue making music even when he retires or passes on. The group is no longer for the Mazibukos or the Shabalalas, it’s for South Africans.

“We want this torch to not switch off. We don’t want people to say, ‘there was iMambazo and when they were no longer there, [isicathamiya] ended just like that’,” adds Sibongiseni.

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